Monday, July 25, 2011


Great result in the Test match today. I am exceptionally impressed with England as a team, and an excellent result for test cricket generally, too.

I was at Lords on Day 1, Thursday, with my Dad, sporting my England women's shirt and an umbrella, and eating my sausage and egg roll with relish. I love Lord's, just being there, even if it chucks it down with rain, as it did from about 4pm. It's the atmosphere; probably something to do with the historian lurking within me feeding off the many years of history contained at this very special ground.

Perhaps because I am now starting to analyse things more often with my 'feminist sports historian' hat, however, something did strike me rather forcefully. This was that, at a rough ratio, men outnumbered women by something like 10 to 1 in the crowd. In my section of the crowd, I appeared to be the only female present aged under thirty-five.

I wonder if this is a typical ratio at cricket matches in England. Or is it something to do with Lord's, a ground which did not allow women to play there until 1976; home of the MCC, a club that only voted to admit female members in 1998? (A ground I also love, and can't understand why anyone else would NOT love, but hey, it's worth asking the question...)

I'd be very interested in statistical data on this, if it's available; I'm sure it would bring out some of the points in my wider research about cricketing spaces being defined as masculine spaces. It strikes me that this is probably the case for many other sports as well - in particular I can't see it NOT being true for football, I'll be honest.

It does seem that if we're trying to make some kind of progress for sportswomen, for female cricketers, for women in society generally, this is a really central issue. Sports grounds shouldn't remain as some kind of pocket of masculinity, but we should be seeking to actively redefine them as gender-neutral spaces and encouraging women to attend cricket (etc) matches. ESPECIALLY when what's being played is the kind of cricket we saw today, yesterday and the day before which couldn't possibly fail to hold anyone's attention, male, female or any other category you care to mention.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Women's Quadrangular Series

A (belated) congratulations to England for their excellent performance in the NatWest Women's Quadrangular Series, triumphing in the final by 34 runs.

Unsurprisingly it was England and Australia, the top-ranked international teams, who made it to the final.

Despite the fact that their match just a few days before at the home of cricket had been won by Australia, the final on July 7th enabled England's team to show off the all-round talent of their current squad. Highlights were Lydia Greenway's 58, Arran Brindle's 27 from 18 balls and Katherine Brunt's career-best 5 for 18.

To read more, see

Overall a positive summer for England women, though a couple of negatives to note:
1) The lack of press coverage, despite England's success. Sky also seems to have only broadcast the T20 series.
2) Where the final was played, ie Wormsley, in Staffordshire. If you're asking 'where?' you won't be alone.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

This is an intriguing news story that I saw on BBC news a few days ago:

The majority of the Sri Lanka women's cricket squad have signed up for jobs in the armed services.
The move comes after attempts by Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) to find a sponsor for the women's team have failed so far to create much interest.

The attempts made by the English women's governing body until 1998, the Women's Cricket Association, to attract commercial sponsorship, could probably fill a book in themselves, but I have yet to research this aspect of the sport's history in detail. This can wait for another blog post, perhaps. Suffice it to say that women's sport has always been and is still chronically underfunded and undersponsored (although the situation has improved in Britain in recent years).

The other aspect of this news story that I find interesting is the way a career in the army is portrayed as highly compatible with playing cricket: the players, according to the BBC correspondent, "can hone their sporting skills while in uniform."

I spent part of last year researching the history of women's sport in the British army for my Master's dissertation. Specifically I looked at the Second World War, and the impact this had on opportunities for women to participate in sport (and cricket specifically).

The question posed was what effect total war might have had on the 'masculine' domain of sport. Relating to the above news story, I particularly considered the entrance of 445,000 women into the auxiliary armed forces between 1939 and 1945. In this period, the authorities recognised the value of sport for morale purposes and established a welfare organisation, with welfare officers securing equipment and grounds to enable women to play sports and games, as well as organising compulsory Physical Training (PT) for recruits. The attitude that a career in the army is compatible with the playing of sport evidenly has a long history.

One striking trend was the frequency with which mixed sport - previously frowned upon in British society - took place where men and women were stationed together. For example, Women's Cricket reported after the war that some of the WCA's talented players were selected to play in the predominantly male Officers v Sergeants cricket matches.

Conservative attitudes towards female athleticism remained in place. The Treasury would not budget for additional PT kit for women, refusing to believe that they would be participating in strenuous enough activities to require this. Additionally, PT was specially adapted to women and mainly involved 'light' gymnastic movements. It was specified that women should not be able to compete in violent sports such as tug-of-war.

Nonetheless, a time of total war coupled with the entrance of women into the armed forces did expand the sporting opportunities available to a number of females, and for a time at least broke down some gender boundaries.

To bring this back to the news story I started this blog entry by quoting from, it does seem as though we might greet the news of female cricketers joining the Sri Lankan Army as a positive development, breaking down the traditional association between masculinity, sport and war. On the other hand it seems clear to me that both these arenas are still perceived as 'masculine' and that female involvement, even in a time of total war as described above, is unable to permanently break down these associations to any great extent.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sorry to have neglected to post for awhile - one of the downsides to being a part-time PhD student is having to work 3 jobs from time to time to foot the bills. I'm hoping to post a bit more frequently from now on!

It was good to see on cricinfo recently a bit of a preview of the Women's Quadrangular Tournament being held in England this summer between England, Australia, New Zealand and India (the 4 best women's sides in the world) -

Nice to see the women's game getting a bit of coverage, but, as ever, we'll have to see what happens once the tournament actually begins. After the results in Australia, I think we can look forward to an interesting summer of women's cricket.

Anyway, what really inspired this blog post was the announcement that Arran Brindle is back in the England side, having announced in 2006 that

I have decided to take an extended break from competing at the highest level for personal reasons, and to spend more time with my family while also looking to develop my career outside of cricket.

According to her ECB player profile, this really meant time off to start a family of her own. For Brindle, it appeared to be a choice (albeit temporary) between children and cricket. The research I have done to date reveals striking continuities between the difficulties faced by Brindle and her female ancestors. It has certainly never been easy for women to juggle cricket and marriage.

Eric Morecambe quipped in the foreword to Rachael Heyhoe-Flint's 1978 autobiography that

she is in such demand that she rarely eats at home. In fact, her lonely husband has eaten so many frozen dinners that he's been treated for a chilblained stomach and has had a gas heater fitted in his igloo.

RHF goes on to claim that she discounted marriage for years,

chiefly on the grounds that it would have been unfair to my husband. I did not consider giving up cricket and hockey at an early age and settling down to mothering and housewifery. I knew it would take a man of extraordinary tolerance, understanding and – preferably – a sporting background of his own, to put up with my constant departures to various corners of the globe.

Presumably she would have endorsed the following advice, targeted at the young female cricketer, published in the August 1966 edition of Women's Cricket journal:

To all those girls who, through fear of having to give up cricket have turned down no end of marriage proposals, here are a few words of advice from someone who risked it:
Arrange your wedding for just after the cricket season has finished. Wait on him hand and foot all through the early winter months, gradually easing up on the servant act after Christmas and constantly stressing how satisfying cooking and housework can be. If he is a keen footballer, encourage it; if not, make him take it up.
By the time March arrives he should be helping out a bit in the home and able to cook a simple meal...
April arrives with cricket practice one night a week and a match at the weekend. He should by now be sufficiently tired of you to enjoy one night a week out with the boys, and as for that match at the weekend his conscience is only too glad to be free of that guilty feeling it had all through the football season.

Naturally it has been even trickier for players to balance motherhood with cricket. A letter to the editors of Women's Cricket in May 1963 pleaded them for help:

how does one manage to resume playing and look after one's charge? will opponents and team-mates relish a pram appearing in their midst or what will occur when infant howls as mother bats? Is this a time for co-operation by all or is it, as so many of my friends tell me, time for my personal permanent departure...

I think many club cricketers today would recognise this dilemma.

In the less distant past the desire to devote time to motherhood has contributed to the premature end of some cricketing careers. Karen Smithies, England captain during the 1993 World Cup victory, retired in 2000, but 3 years previously had admitted she was considering retirement because:

I'm married, maybe I want a family soon, and [my husband's] not a cricket man...I think he's getting to the end of his tether.

All this is understandable when you consider the sacrifices that have always been and are still required to be a successful international cricketer: often away for months at a time and undergoing long hours of training, without even the financial reward that can prove such an incentive to male professionals.

One thing I have, however, found intriguing is that even pre-second wave feminism, many of these women were forceful enough to make their own choices about how to spend their leisure time. Given what social historians claim about married life in the 1950s, it is really rather extraordinary to read the following poem in a women's journal:

'The Married Woman's Apology to her husband'

Tell me not John, I am so strange
That from the scullery
Of our good home and quiet life
To bowl and bat I fly.
True, a new venture now I chase,
The Aussies must be beat;
And with a firmer grip I brace
My bat, my nerves, my feet.
Yet this desertion from my hearth
Which you, I know, deplore -
I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not cricket more.

(Women's Cricket, May 1951)

It certainly seems that for married female cricketers, two loves have always had to fight for precedence. I have been encouraged in my research, however, by the countless examples of husbands encouraging wives (and daughters) to take up the game, coaching them, and never seeming to mind their occasional relegation to second-place priority.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Ashes tour, 2010-11

As the men's Ashes tour of 2010/11 reaches its conclusion, and England fans can finally get some sleep again - my mum will be rather grateful, as she has been waking up most nights over the past month to find my dad hunched over the radio with a wide grin on his face - I thought I would reflect on an aspect of the series I have found rather interesting.

Naturally, I have massively enjoyed this series (name me any English supporter that hasn't). It is such a contrast to the dismal feelings of 4 years ago. As an avid Flintoff fan, would it worry readers if I admit that watching him at the final press conference of the 5-0 whitewash actually caused me physical pain? But those memories have been almost entirely erased by the utter one-sidedness of this Ashes series. Everything has worked for England: the measured, calm captaincy of Strauss (no surprises); Cook's timely return to form; the bowling of Anderson, Tremlett and Swann, up there with the best in the world at the moment.

That caveat aside, however, when I remove my "cricket fan" hat and put on my "feminist sports historian" hat (it is sometimes hard to wear them simultaneously), there have been times when it is less the cricket that makes me itch to put pen to paper and more the surrounding media coverage.

Specifically, what is intriguing are the various ways in which journalists have made assumptions about appropriate gender roles throughout the series. A major example is the discussions surrounding the role of the England "WAGs" (Wives and Girlfriends). Questions of when was the optimum arrival time and the role the distraction of family members may have played in the 2006-7 defeat were picked up on by most sections of the press. Success this series has led to Strauss's wife Ruth McDonald being labelled England's "lucky charm".

I recall one article in the Metro, early in Chris Stocks' 'Ashes Diary', which is helpful to quote in full:

Cricket Australia have signed up Shane Watson's wife Lee Furlong as an ambassador in the hope she'll attract more women to get involved in the sport. If the effect she had on the Gabba crowd over the weekend is anything to go by, I think she will probably have more luck with the male demographic.

Here and elsewhere, the media appear to both project and reinforce the idea that for the majority of women, the appropriate role is that of beautiful wife as well as loyal husband-supporter.

Highlighting this view is Kerry O'Keeffe's article in Australia's Daily Telegraph following the fourth Test, in which he argued that one series-levelling strategy would be to:

Out WAG England: The Australian wives and girlfriends are a loyal bunch of stunning-looking women, and they're at the ground every day to support their spouse ... anonymously. I advise Miss Furlong, Miss Bratich and Mrs Cricket to put down their low-calorie zero-alcohol organic mineral water, get out on the balcony when their men walk out and scream at the top of their lungs, "Go youse good things". Let's see the understated English girls match that show of Aussie ocker.

Hm, interesting...

The Independent also expressed an opinion on this issue, in an article entitled 'Why every nice girl loves a cricketer' (15th December). If you're wondering, the conclusion was that women love
someone educated, but a bit dirty, with a nice posh voice and a slow-paced existence somewhere deep in the English countryside...the elegant, loping gait of a tall, lean man as he jogs across a sunlit arbour next to a country pub to a smattering of polite applause

It seems to me that this kind of article can only reinforce the popular perception that cricket is a man's game. (Although I am being slightly hypocritical here, given that I have often expressed disappointment at Michael Clarke's now-much=shorter hair, and admired Tremlett's height/general attractiveness when he runs up to bowl...)

Another major issue was James Anderson's decision to fly back to witness the birth of his second child in between the second and third Tests. Interestingly, this was one of the only times I heard a female voice on the radio during this series in connection with the cricket. In this case, Claire Taylor was being interviewed on Radio 4 in a discussion about the wisdom of Anderson's decision. Coincidence, or a hint that this is one of the issues on which women might be seen as more qualified to express an opinion?

My dad does not appreciate it when I express sympathy for Australia, but the talk surrounding Ponting during the fourth Test in particular made me feel rather sorry for him. His ability as a player, IMHO, means he deserves better from the Australian management.

Even aside from all that, though, I found this article by Derek McGovern in the Mirror (December 29th) particularly offensive:

Ricky Ponting argued for so long while clearly wrong that I thought he was my missus.

Then he started batting - and I was convinced.

I don't think I need to say any more on that.

It's not that the media shouldn't be covering some of these stories; I'm sure the public are interested in the birth of Anderson's child, for example - I was (awh, so cute). What is really disappointing about the coverage is the way women continue to be portrayed in exclusively supportive, traditionally 'feminine' ways - as wives, as mothers. It is especially irritating that the England women's cricket team have just begun their own tour of Australia, which has to date received little to no press coverage. This, above all, is the problem.